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Crashed Japanese F-35 wreckage found in Pacific, pilot still missing

Search and rescue teams found wreckage from a crashed Japanese F-35 stealth fighter in the Pacific Ocean close to northern Japan as efforts to find the missing pilot continues, authorities said on Wednesday.

“The aircraft, less than one-year-old, was the first F-35 to be assembled in Japan and was aloft for only 28 minutes on Tuesday before contact was lost.

“The plane had logged a total of 280 hours in the air since its first flight, he added.

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It is only the second F-35 to crash in the two-decades it has been flying and could reignite concern about the F-35 having only one engine.

The incident came as Lockheed Martin, the F-35 manufacturer, competes for orders in Finland and Switzerland against the twin-engined Eurofighter Typhoon and Boeing F/A-18E/F jet.

“The advanced, single-seat jet was flying in good weather about 135 km east of the Misawa Air Base in Aomori Prefecture at about 7:27 p.m. (1027 GMT) on Tuesday when it disappeared from radar.

“We recovered the wreckage and determined it was from the F-35,” a spokesman for the Air Self Defence Force (ASDF) said, adding that the pilot of the aircraft was still missing.

Eight ships and seven aircraft, including a U.S. Navy P-8 Orion maritime patrol plane, are taking part in search and rescue efforts.

Defence Minister Takeshi Iwaya told newsmen that the aircraft was at the front of a group of four planes out for training maneuvers when it sent an “aborting practice” signal and then disappeared from the radar.

“We’ll need to cooperate with the U.S. forces and I believe arrangements are being made for this,” Iwaya said, adding that the priority was on determining the cause of the accident.

A second ASDF official told Reuters that Japan has a total of 13 F-35s, including the one that crashed, which was the fifth delivered to the ASDF, but the first assembled by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries in Japan.

`Japan’s remaining 12 stealth jets are grounded for now.

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“The previous four aircraft had been used for training in the United States before being brought to Japan,’’ the defense official said.

A representative for Mitsubishi Heavy Industries said the company had no immediate comment.

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd assembles the aircraft at a plant near Nagoya in central Japan.

The lost aircraft cost 14 billion yen (125.98 million dollars), several million dollars over one purchased directly from the U.S.

“The F-35’s pilot was a veteran flyer with 3,200 hours of flight time, but had spent only 60 hours in the F-35.

“The aircraft crashed in waters that reach a depth of around 1,500 meters, making recovery, particularly of the aircraft’s flight data recorder, difficult,’’ the official said. (NAN)